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Peter Roh

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Born at Conthey (Gunthis) in the canton of Valais ( French Switzerland ), 14 August, 1811; d. at Bonn, 17 May, 1872. Up to his thirteenth year he spoke only French, so that he had to learn German from a German priest in the vicinity before he was able to begin his gymnasial studies in the boarding-school kept by the Jesuits at Brig in Switzerland. Later he became a day-pupil at the gymnasium kept by the Jesuits at Sittin. While here he resolved to enter the Society of Jesus (1829); strange to say the external means of bringing him to this decision was the reading of Pascal's pamphlet "Monita Secreta". He taught the lower gymnasial classes at the lyceum at Fribourg. During these years of study Roh showed two characteristic qualities: the talent of imparting knowledge in a clear and convincing manner, and an unusual gift for oratory. These abilities determined his future work to be that of a teacher and a preacher. He was first (1842-5) professor of dogmatics at Fribourg, then at the academy at Lucerne which had just been given to the Jesuits. At the same time he preached and aided as opportunity occurred in missions. These labors were interrupted by the breaking out of the war of the Swiss Sonderbund, during which he was military chaplain ; but after its unfortunate end he was obliged to flee into Piedmont, from there to Linz and Gries, finally finding a safe refuge at Rappoltsweiler in Alsace as tutor in the family of his countryman and friend Siegwart-Müller, also expatriated. Here he stayed until 1849. A professorship of dogmatics at Louvain only lasted a year. When the missions for the common people were opened in Germany in 1850 his real labors began; as he said himself, "Praise God, I now come into my element." Both friend and foe acknowledge that the success of these missions was largely due to Roh, and his powerful and homely eloquence received the highest praise. He was an extemporaneous speaker; the writing of sermons and addresses was, as he himself confessed, "simply impossible" to him; yet, thoroughly trained in philosophy and theology, he could also write when necessary, as several articles from him in the "Stimmen aus Maria-Laach" prove. His pamphlet "Das alte Lied: der Zweck heiligt die Mittel, im Texte verbessert und auf neue Melodie gesetzt" has preserved a certain reputation until the present day, as Father Roh declared he would give a thousand gulden to the person who could show to the faculty of law of Bonn or Heidelberg a book written by a Jesuit which taught the principle that the end justifies the means. The prize is still unclaimed. Some of his sermons have also been preserved; they were printed against his will from stenographic notes. Father Roh's greatest strength lay in his power of speech and "he was the most powerful and effective preacher of the German tongue that the Jesuits have had in this century".

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